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Character Study

A late 19th century limestone house offers a melting pot decor scheme that spans centuries.

A study in light and dark, the impeccably appointed living room combines period details (the fireplace surround) with contemporary classics, such as the Ron Arad rocking chair.

A galley kitchen never looked so good: Cabinets and Gaggenau appliances are from Ernestomeda.

 Marcel Wanders’ Knotted chair and a Birdie’s Nest ceiling fixture add a dynamic twist to the clean, minimalist master bedroom

A faux zebra print rug and velvet tufted headboard add a note of grown-up luxe to this young girl’s bedroom.

Simple IKEA shelves ground the light-filled home office.

A cohort of iconic chairs—including designs by Rietveld, Eames, Botta and Gehry—form an eclectic gathering around the timeless Le Corbusier dining table

Every home buyer has her nonnegotiables—whether it’s a professional kitchen, off-street parking, a walk-in closet or home automation technology. For architect Katja Linnig, it was a vintage, four-story limestone town house with sunlit bedrooms. Considering that many old townhomes have only three floors and are not often bright inside, she wasn’t making things easy for herself. But perseverance paid off. And once she found what she was looking for—an 1886 beauty steps away from the zoo in Lincoln Park—Linnig wasted no time tweaking the home until it was just right.

The exterior work included a new roof, windows, entry staircase and the installation of a thin, pre‐stressed granite bridge, which connects the house to the roof garden perched atop the newly built garage. Inside, heating and cooling systems were replaced, the floors and staircase were refinished, and track lighting got the heave-ho in favor of indirect systems and stylish pendants. Linnig wanted to fashion a neutral envelope that would complement her collection of modern and contemporary furniture without erasing the “old house” essence of the place. Luckily, the previous owners had executed a restrained renovation in the 1990s—right down to matching new trim to the original millwork—which suited Linnig just fine. While she preserved the existing floor plan, bathrooms got major upgrades and the kitchen was utterly refreshed. The space (once graced with green country cupboards) was open to the dining room—a fact she wasn’t crazy about. She’d had a separate formal dining room in the past, and didn’t like the idea of guests gazing at a refrigerator when they sat down to eat. So she hid it in a new wall of high-gloss, white lacquer cabinetry, and installed a substantial Carrara marble partition between the two spaces. It’s just high enough to hide the prep area while still allowing communication between the rooms. The kitchen and dining room were both outfitted with towering French doors on the south-facing façade, flooding the interior with natural light.

Linnig’s love for the historic character of her home—the tall ceilings, three fireplaces—is matched by the pleasure she takes in making high design pieces a part of everyday life. “When I first started working, I put some money aside from every paycheck and slowly built the collection, ordering a chair every few months. So some of these things have been with us for over 20 years.” And as she readily admits, with a husband, two middle school-age girls and a dog, it shows. “If you look at everything closely, there’s a lot of character to each piece. I have this incredible Cassina Zig Zag chair that our dog ate a corner off of when he was a puppy. There are scratches on things. A painter dropped a can of paint on a Gehry cardboard chair,” she laughs. “Everything is here to be used.”